More and more often, I find myself trying to explain to folk about my (almost) daily beverage, Yard Tea.
As in, I wander through my yard, picking This or That as flavor and medicinal benefits suit the day, and simmer all the fresh plant matter in water, and sip the results. This beverage generally tastes like weeds, or outdoors, or greens, or “yard”, which reinforces the name. Rather than trying to explain Yard Tea to everyone individually, I figured I would write a blog post!
The herbs in this post range between foraged (no human intervention at all), feral (I planted them and they went rogue), and gardened (I actively worked to plant and cultivate them).
NOTE: I am not a trained herbalist, I am still learning what the heck I am doing, and none of these statements have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
That said, I have found tea made of these plants to be very beneficial for my health, especially dealing with stress, allergies, and sinus and chest congestion. This spring and summer, my seasonal allergies have been absolutely awful, and this beverage has helped me avoid taking over-the-counter allergy medicines on all but the worst days. I am sharing my personal experiences, in case others might benefit from them.
Also NOTE: Please make sure 100% of your identification for any plant you encounter in the wild. While all the plants in this list are generally recognized as safe – i.e., even if they don’t provide you tangible medical benefits, they also won’t cause you any harm – remember that any person can be allergic to any plant, so use caution when trying something new. For instance, some people are allergic to members of the mint family (and thus may wish to avoid catnip or other mint-related plants), whereas others are allergic to asters (and might prefer catnip over chamomile).
THIRD NOTE: Yes, this post merits many disclaimers. This list should be considered a mere starting point, not a definitive source of information. Many of these herbs have contraindications, e.g., don’t use while pregnant or avoid if on blood pressure medication or stop using two weeks before surgery. I didn’t list these – please do your own independent research to determine if the plants listed below are safe for you to use.
A few technical terms:
- Infusion. Hot water is poured over the plant matter, which is allowed to steep for a period of time. Appropriate for soft leaves and flowers.
- Decoction. The plant parts are simmered in water for a period of time. More appropriate for tough plant parts such as stiff leaves, stems and roots.
Generally, I brew a decoction for Yard Tea, simmering the herbs for at least 10 minutes and then letting them cool to room temperature before straining. I then store the “tea” in the fridge and reheat about 12 oz at a time on daily basis or drink it cold over ice. When my lung congestion and cough get worse (usually after I miss a few days of tea), I will make a stronger decoction using chopped mullein, blackberry, garlic mustard and/or violet leaves. After simmering these plants for forty minutes, I add additional herbs to the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. How much plant matter and how much water? I never measure!
The advantage of brewing a week at a time? It’s easy to enjoy a cup of yard tea when the mood strikes. The tradeoff, however, is not being able to adjust the ingredients daily to address specific health concerns that might be present. That said, if I have to harvest and brew yard tea each day, I sometimes get too busy or simply forget. I finally remember a few days later when my sinus congestion has gotten to the point where I can’t breather or – worse yet – has started to creep into my chest.
I also adjust the ingredients based on flavors. I have noticed that bee balm in particular becomes more bitter later in the summer or as it is steeped longer. Which is not necessarily bad, but not always as pleasant to drink. Ground ivy also adds bitter notes to tea, whereas garlic mustard makes the brew, well, garlicky.
Bee balm (aka wild bergamot, Monarda spp.)
A tall flowering perennial in the mint family. Bee balm flowers are beloved by pollinators. I sprinkled some seeds about a pollinator bed in my front yard and have been blessed with an abundance of this plant.
As summer has progressed, my bee balm has developed powdery mildew, a fungal infection that spreads particularly in hot, humid conditions. In other words, most of the year in Maryland. Or at least that’s how it feels! When harvesting bee balm, I look for just fresh tips which are unaffected by the powdery mildew. The flowers are also medicinal, but I can’t bear to deprive the bees of those purple blossoms!
While bee balm offers numerous health benefits, I primarily include it in my Yard Tea for respiratory support by keeping mucus from building up in my sinuses. I also enjoy the strong flavor, and in batches where I leave it out, the tea just doesn’t taste as good.
Blackberry (Rubus spp.)
Blackberry is distinguished from other brambles by their grooved stems and black berries with solid cores (as opposed to black raspberries, Rubus occidentalis, which separate from their stems when picked leaving a hollow center). Blackberries often have wicked thorns which can make them a challenge to wildcraft. Domestic varieties are sometimes thornless.
I have domestic plants in my garden and wild ones bordering my yard, so I have plenty of leaves to use for Yard Tea. I include blackberry leaves in the tea when I find myself struggling with a nagging cough. Allergies this year have frequently crept into chest congestion, which blackberry leaves may help ease. Blackberry leaves are also full of vitamins and minerals and can help strengthen blood.
Catnip (Nepean cataria)
If you have a cat, you may already be familiar with this member of the mint family. I did not plant the catnip growing in my garden. It just… came up one year along with a lot of other weeds, and once I recognized it, I allowed it to stay.
(It’s interesting how many plants on this list belong to the mint family.)
Catnip leaves and flowering tops offer calming effects to stressed nerves, and digestive upset caused by tension. I turn to this herb almost daily in my Yard Tea, at least in part because I have SO much of it invading my garden. Unfortunately, the pollinators love it too, so I can’t bring myself to pull these “weeds”.
Catnip may also help with menstrual cramps, so I have an extra cup with red raspberry leaves and red clover leaves and flowers when I need extra “female support”.
Chamomile (German, Matricaria recutita, or Roman, Chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile (of whichever variety) is widely known for its anti-stress effects and is similar in use to catnip.
Chamomile is one of the few plants in this list I’m actively trying to grow. That said, in my yard at least, catnip is so much more abundant I only use these little white and golden flowers occasionally for an extra mood boost.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know garlic mustard is a plant I love to hate.
But garlic mustard leaves are a nutritional powerhouse and provide a variety of medical benefits. I don’t use garlic mustard in Yard Tea very often, because its strong flavor clashes with the other herbs that I drink daily. However, when fighting a chronic cough, I like to use it with other lung-clearing plants like mullein. The infusion or decoction could also be used as a base for broth in a savory soup, delivering the medicinal and nutritional benefits via food rather than tea.
Ground ivy (aka creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea)
Ground ivy is yet another member of the mint family with medicinal benefits. Often reviled as a lawn-wrecker and non-native invasive, this low-growing plant—also known as creeping Charlie and gill-over-the-ground—has a long history of use by humans.
When I have a lot of sinus congestion, ground ivy is a “must have” for my yard tea.
Great mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein grows wild along the roads and fields everywhere near me—in other words, in a whole bunch of locations I don’t consider safe to forage! A baby (first-year) plant hid in one of my garden beds last year, and surprised me in the spring when it came back to life and exploded into the huge plant it is now.
Given the reputation mullein has for supporting lung health, I decided to let it stay, and I’m glad I did. I haven’t often needed to harvest leaves for coughing and congestion, but the few times I have, the results were amazing. While everyone responds differently to medicine (and especially herbal medicine), this is one remedy I highly recommend. Since mullein is a biennial, I plan to save some seeds for more plants next year.
Holy basil (aka tulsi, Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy basil, also known as tulsi, has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. A few years ago, I obtained some seeds through a seed-swap, and ever since the holy basil has been feral in my garden beds and paths. And while I should remove them as weeds, I don’t because they smell so fragrant and the flowers are so beloved by bees. But then I get busy with other things and, before I know it, they’ve gone to seed. This ensures the next year’s harvest will also be in the way as I try to take care of the ‘real’ garden crops.
Holy basil is primarily known as an adaptogen, which is an herb that helps the body cope with stress. It also helps with cough, fever, inflammation, and a variety of other conditions. Drinking holy basil in my tea regularly also gives me a reason to harvest it from my garden, to make room for veggies! Plus, it tastes really good.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Yet another herb in the mint family! You don’t have to know anything about herbal medicine to know that lavender is prized for its calming effect on the mood. Lavender’s soothing reputation is mainstream and touted on labels from body care products to herbal teas.
Unfortunately, my lavender is past its prime this late in the summer so I don’t include it in Yard Tea as often as I would like. But even smelling the old, dried flowers always lifts my mood.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm teeters on the edge between “gardened” and “feral” in my yard. While I planted it on purpose in my garden last year, it is a hardy perennial that bounced back after the winter and spread its roots so far in the bed that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to remove it!
But I’m not sure I ever would. Lemon balm offers calming, soothing, and anti-anxiety effects similar to catnip. In fact, I use the two of them together almost daily, combined with whatever other herbs I may have available or need to support a specific condition. Plus, daily trimming helps keep the plant in check!
Plantain (Plantago spp.)
Plantain is a “weed” that is so common and ubiquitous, everyone is familiar with it. Broadleaf (shown here) and narrow leaf offer similar properties, but broadleaf is the dominant species in my yard.
While plantain is technically edible, I much prefer other greens to eat. Rather, I have been using plantain years now in bite and sting salves. Turns out plantain leaves are also good for treating coughs and colds, as well as reducing allergies. Once I learned that little bit of information, plantain leaves became a mainstay in my various yard tea formulas, since my allergies have been so very bad this year. Luckily, I have broadleaf plantain leaves everywhere in my yard, so I am at no risk of harvesting this precious little plant.
Red raspberry (Rubus ideaus)
Many of the plants in Yard Tea grow wild or feral without any effort from me. But not the raspberries. I have slaved for years to care for the red raspberry canes in my garden. The canes reward my tender care by merrily spreading through the garden, either through suckers, fruit that I missed during harvest, or seeds spread by birds who steal the fruit whenever I turn my back.
I sadly pull these rogue canes, but since learning about herbal medicine I am less sad. I dry the leaves and save them for a “feminine support tea”. The leaves help provide hormonal balance, and I apparently need this about, well, once each month.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover is yet another wild plant that has invaded my garden, along with the mullein. And catnip technically.
Along with raspberry leaves, red clover’s leaves and flowers help balance female hormones and as such, are featured in my yard tea at least once a month. (I should point out, my husband often drinks yard tea with me… but not those days!)
Violet (Viola spp.)
Violets are another wild plant on this list.
Violet leaves and flowers are edible, and the leaves in particular are high in vitamins and minerals. Like plantain, it has previously appeared in this blog as a healing salve ingredient. However, the leaves are also helpful for a variety of medical conditions including a persistent dry cough.